31 Mar In the Wake of 60 Minutes
Confusion and half-truths follow report of excessive formaldehyde in some Lumber Liquidators’ laminate floors
“No worries,” her salesman says. “All of our flooring meets California Air Resources Board (CARB) standards for formaldehyde.” He is misleading, but not intentionally.
To assist its salespeople, a national retail group issues an alert to its members that reads: “All of our laminate flooring meets CARB 2 standards.” Another over-simplification.
Most flooring retailers – including those touting “natural” products – have limited understanding of how to gauge a floor’s impact on indoor-air quality. Understanding the evolution of people-friendly products, and keeping up with the ever-changing status of which manufacturer has added a certification and what the certification means, is a specialized field of its own. Compounding the confusion, certifications expire annually.CARB 2 is not a guarantee
CARB 2 – the standard cited by 60 Minutes during its March 1 broadcast — does not ensure safe formaldehyde emissions from any finished flooring product. This regulation only applies to composite wood products, such as medium- or high-density fiberboard, that go into making laminate and engineered hardwood floors. And it will soon become U.S. law — with a very needed change that the flooring industry hopefully will be able to understand and explain correctly.
Composite wood products are made with glue, and cheap glue can emit high levels of formaldehyde. More glue is used when these products are taken and laminated to wear-layers and backings to make laminates and engineered wood floorings.
How do you know if the final product meets emission limits?
There are better measurements to use in determining chemical emissions from finished flooring products. FloorScore, GREENGUARD and GREENGUARD Gold, for example, are third-party certifications used for hard-surface flooring that not only have strict limits for formaldehyde emissions, but also for multiple other Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that pose potential health concerns.
CRI Green Label Plus, also based on California standards, is the current, standard for the carpet industry, which typically does not use formaldehyde. There are several other certifications, such as Green Squared for tile, and an array of standards from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) that address indoor-air quality and sustainability.
While many U.S. retailers have attempted to appeal to the “green” consumer by devising their own rating systems, knowledgeable consumers rejected these long ago, opting for the third-party certifications, which are administered by companies like UL Environment and SCS Global.
Look for a current certificate
Since 2012, Natural Interiors has verified and listed all of the third-party certifications – indoor-air quality and sustainability – for each product available through flooring retailers.
The laminate under attack in the 60 Minutes report was made in China for Lumber Liquidators. But this doesn’t mean we should assume cheap glue is used in all flooring that isn’t made in the United States.
Virtually all bamboo flooring, which is made with glue, is made, at least in part, in China because it is harvested there. And leading bamboo manufacturers have held GREENGUARD and FloorScore certifications, respectively, for years.
The best cork flooring, including floating floors that are laminated, is harvested and manufactured in and around Portugal. Again, leading manufacturers/distributors like Wicanders, USFloors, and Qu-Cork , also have achieved GREENGUARD or GREENGUARD Gold.
There ought to be a law
Since the U.S. green-building movement got underway about 15 years ago, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system and the state of California have been major forces behind stricter chemical emission limits and better indoor-air quality. Standards for formaldehyde emissions that already are law in California are the model for what soon will become law across the United States.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) is finalizing the rules and implementation procedures for the Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act, or Title VI of the Toxic Substances Control Act. And as it pertains to the finished flooring product, rather than just composite wood components, the USEPA has indicated it will close an important gap:
“Under EPA’s proposed regulations, laminate flooring that is a ‘laminated product’ made by attaching a wood veneer with a formaldehyde-based resin to a composite wood platform would be subject to testing and certification, as would laminate flooring that is hardwood plywood,” according to a March 6, 2015 EPA statement, issued in response to the 60 Minutes broadcast. “EPA received a large number of comments on this aspect of the proposed regulations, and EPA is carefully considering the comments in developing the final rule.”
Number of certified brands is increasing
All U.S. flooring manufacturers have known for some time that California’s formaldehyde law soon would be in effect nationwide. More and more manufacturers, particularly laminate manufacturers who were far behind on our scorecard in 2012, are putting their products through third-party testing for certifications like FloorScore® and GREENGUARD.
So, while an end to formaldehyde concerns should be on the horizon, indoor-air quality certifications and regulations — and consequently scorecards — will continue to change and require careful attention to accuracy. Retail salespeople, who often deal with hundreds to thousands of products, are not likely to become in-depth experts on scientific indoor-air quality certification requirements, or which of their products has met them.
Those whose companies have knowledgeable salespeople will have the advantage in meeting today’s emphasis on health and environment.
And when these salespeople tell you: “No worries,” you’ll know you can believe them. ©
— Nancy Kibbee is editor at naturalinteriors.com.